After all, hiking can be unpredictable, fun and exhilarating. So, it begs the question, what should you pack?
When the winter snow finally subsides, we have one thing on our minds, hiking. We want to head out into the wild, spending time with nature and maybe a few of our favourite people. However, to be well equipped to take a hiking trip, you can’t simply close your eyes, pick a trail at random on a map and set off, you have to prepare yourself!
Your mind is racing at this point, what you will wear, what you will carry, what you will eat, how you will protect yourself, how you will find your way around and many other unknowns.
So we thought, what better opportunity is there than to put together an ultimate packing list guide to make it all super easy. All the information on hiking and what to bring in one handy place.
It can get a little confusing, right? Packing is one thing but considering safety precautions, how to navigate the land, and all these other factors made an otherwise chill adventure, a tad stressful.
Now, there are so many things to consider in when it comes to packing for a hike. We shall break everything down for you and have you looking like a pro on the trail. So let’s dive into our ultimate packing guide for hiking.
When hiking, you’ll carry a lot of items – more than what you can fit in your pockets. To a newbie, all day packs look the same, but they are not. Actually, they are designed differently to suit different functions. This is to say that not all day packs are perfect for hikers.
When choosing a hiking day pack, you should consider four things;
Day pack capacities vary greatly. They range from 10 litres and below to 50 litres. For very short hikes, a 10 litre (or smaller) day pack will do. This day pack is compact and lightweight and can only contain a few essentials, including keys, energy bars, and a light jacket. The sweet spot for hikers is 21 litres to 35 litres. These have enough space to carry clothing, food and extra equipment for luxury, including a book and a camera.
How a day pack is built and the features it sports will affect how you like it. Aside from the standard features, some day packs include a rain cover, a sleeping bag compartment and a mesh back panel.
Under this, you should consider the torso length and whether it feels snug around the hips or not. How well it fits is imperative on a hike for comfort purposes. If the daypack is a loose or very tight fit, you will get tired fast.
We should stress that these are optional. But recently, trekking poles have become a standard for expert hikers. They are super simple and improve support and stability regardless of the terrain. Before you buy a trekking pole, you should consider the following;
Is it double or single?
Length – you should choose one that will have your hands make a 90 degree at the elbow when the pole tips are on the ground.
Features – here, you should consider shock absorptions, locking mechanisms, weight, foldability, and adjustability.
Hiking is a physical activity that will get you sweating in no time. For this reason, you need clothing that will draw moisture away from your body rather than absorbing it (making you feel gross, wet and dirty). Here are some of the best clothing you should consider:
Regular underwear is made of cotton. And while cotton may be comfortable for daily use, it’s not great for hiking as it absorbs moisture. Moisture-wicking underwear is made from fabric that draws up moisture and brings it closer to the surface for evaporation.
When choosing the perfect one for you, consider the style, fit and features, including flat seams and tagless waistbands.
The best fabrics to choose are merino wool and synthetics.
You should choose either merino wool or synthetic T-shirts. Additionally, you should pack two T-shirts just in case you get late and have to camp.
As the name suggests, these pants/shorts dry faster in comparison to cotton and jeans pants. And since you might get wet when on the hiking trail, they are essential. After all, you don’t want to be walking around with the extra weight of water soaked up by your pants.
Quick dry pants are made from a combination of polyester, nylon, and spandex. These materials give them their superpowers, including fast drying, breathability and moisture wicking.
Long sleeve shirt
With long-sleeve shirts, you should consider where you’ll be going to hike. If you are hiking in a hot and dry area, you should pack a long-sleeved shirt with a UPF rating of 50+. But if you’ll be hiking in forest areas, the long-sleeve shirt should have insect repellent to protect you from mosquitos, black-flies, and ticks.
Lightweight fleece or jacket
This jacket will keep you warm when it’s chilly on the hiking trails. Unlike other materials, fleece is breathable and warm. As such, it won’t make you sweat. It is a perfect layer under a rain jacket because it absorbs condensation without making you cold.
When the dark clouds gather, and the rain starts pouring, you’ll be glad you have a hard-shell outwear. The rainwear should be both breathable and waterproof. Remember, the idea is to stay dry and avoid hypothermia. Consider getting a jacket that has multiple pockets as well as an adjustable hood to maintain control of your line of sight.
Long underwear is vital to keep you warm. However, the underwear you pick should be warm and breathable. Synthetic fabric and merino have a perfect balance of these qualities. How thick and heavy the underwear should depend on how cold it is. It’s best you check the weather forecast before packing.
Insulated jacket or vest
For extra protection against cold weather and strong winds, insulated jackets or goose down coats are perfect. The best-insulated jacket for cold weather is one that has a hood, elastic-bound cuffs and cinch cords in the hem. Insulated jackets are warm and thick but super light.
Fleece pants are great for chilly weather. Since they have a high breathability rating, they don’t offer superior protection against strong winds. As such, you should wear insulated jackets over them when there are strong winds. The warmth provided by fleece pants increases with the thickness of the material.
Gloves or mittens
You need to keep your hands and fingers warm. During cold weather, your fingers and toes are the first parts to suck in the cold. You should wear gloves to protect your hands and fingers and overall, keep your body warm. If it’s rainy, pack waterproof gloves.
If you don’t have a hooded jacket, or if it’s freezing, you should pack a warm hat. Fleece hats are better in comparison to cotton hats. Why? Well, fleece hats retain their insulation even when wet. Additionally, they are soft, warmer and lightweight.
Bandana or Buff
You need to wear a bandana on your forehead or around your net to absorb sweat and keep your face dry. Merino wool bandanas are perfect for keeping you cool throughout the hike. Most synthetic bandanas are made for fishermen who need protection against the reflection of the sun on the waters.
Dirt, water, and snow have sneaky ways of getting into your boots (yes even waterproof boots). To ensure this doesn’t happen, you should have some gaiters. Gaiters are designed to cover the exposed parts of your footwear and consequently protect your feet from water, snow, pebbles, and dirt.
Hiking gaiters should be breathable and lightweight. It should provide protection against grit, light rain, and rocks. If you are hiking on a slightly rough trail, and need protection from rock abrasion, you should get backpacking gaiters. These are somewhat heavier than hiking gaiters and can also be used for snowshoeing (just in case you are into that as well).
When choosing your gaiters, you’ll have to make a choice between short and tall gaiters, and some different features including top closures, instep straps, and waterproof fabric.
For your hike, you should pack light snacks such as hard cheese, nuts, and energy bars (foods you can eat easily as you hike). For lunch, you need a healthy snack. In addition to food, you need water and plan for your water needs carefully. By this we mean you should look at the available water sources on the trail and determine how much you’ll carry.
Generally, we recommend drinking about 500 ml of water every hour during moderate activity and under moderate heat.
Water bottles designed for hiking are sturdy and tough enough to withstand rough use and drops. They can be insulated, ultralight, made of plastic and whichever capacity you prefer. Most day packs are designed to accommodate water bottles.
On the flip side, water reservoirs provide a more convenient way of carrying water. They usually have a low profile design and often have a drinking tube with a bite valve on its end. The reservoir is placed on the shoulder straps and offers quick access to water.
The term ‘snack’ is often used in place of junk food. However, some snacks are healthy for you. Some trail snacks to consider include;
Fresh foods – including carrots.
Dry foods – such as soup mixes, instant rice, noodles, pasta, and drink mixes. Usually, these take up the minimal volume in the day pack and offer diverse tastes.
Dehydrated foods – these are very convenient. They provide great sustenance for minimum weight. But be warned, they can be pricey.
Flavoured drinks – when you drink a lot of water, your body tends to reject the taste. A flavoured drink can be refreshing and will help you stay hydrated throughout the hike.
Your lunch should be nutritious. But instead of taking long lunch breaks dominated by unpacking, preparation of the meal, clean up and repacking, you should carry light and healthy snacks such as fig bars, bagels, dried fruit, nuts and energy bars.
On a day hike, carrying extra food is more of a luxury than a necessity. But if you want to have something to keep your mouth busy, pack any of the trail snacks we’ve mentioned above.
Water filter/purifier or chemical treatment
Boiling water before drinking is not ideal during a day hike. This is where water filtration and treatment options come in. For quick filtration, UV light purifiers will work wonders. But if you are looking for the lightest option, chlorine dioxide treatment tablets will work great. You can also do fast filtration using pump filters with microscopic spores.
As you’ll see later, navigation is one of the ten essential hiking systems. The navigation tool you choose is dependent on the type of hike and your personal preference. If you prefer using GPS, you should note that it’s not a replacement for a compass and a map.
Additionally, even with navigation tools, you should always share your hiking program with your friends. Include your trail route, and times in the program. This is important as it makes a rescue mission easier (in case you get lost).
A trail map opens you up to loads of hiking options. Note the emphasis on ‘trail maps.’ Having a map with you will help you know where you are at all times, where you are headed and what the terrain looks like.
Your trail map should be portable, weather resistant, easy to fold up and easy to use. You should never leave home without it.
Navigating through nature can prove to be tricky. But luckily, compasses are here to the rescue. Compasses are preferred because they are lighter, more durable and don’t rely on batteries. A compass will show you four cardinal points along with other measurements necessary for navigation.
You can also use a compass to triangulate and determine your position. When used with a map, it is quite a powerful tool. However, you will need some basic training to learn how to use it successfully.
The best hiking compasses show north pretty fast, are durable and include additional features like a rotating bezel, a declination scale, and a base plate ruler.
These tools will help you familiarise yourself with the trail and know what to expect. They are often specific for particular hiking routes.
An altimeter watch measures your elevation. There are high chances that you’ll use it slightly more than your compass as it pinpoints your elevation on the map. For instance, if you are hiking on a mountain trail, you can look at your altimeter watch for a quick elevation reading and read your location on the map based on the contour lines.
These watches are surprisingly accurate and reliable. Unfortunately, barometric altimeters are affected by weather changes. As such, you’ll need to calibrate yours the morning of the hike.
GPS technology is on virtually everything these days. But even then, you should have a GPS receiver (handheld) during your hike. These are more accurate and reliable. GPS devices vary in size (general size and that of the screen) and advanced features.
But despite these differences, any GPS will display your position, record your tracks and navigate you from one point to the next.
Now, while a GPS is convenient, you shouldn’t wholly rely on it. Always complement it with a compass and a map.
Regardless of how much you plan for the hike, at times things may go wrong. An emergency may arise, and you’ll need assistance. When this happens, a satellite messenger or a personal locator beacon will be of great help.
Note that cellphones aren’t as reliable mainly because at times, you’ll not have cell service.
Personal locator beacons are designed to send 1-way distress signals. The signal can be pinpointed regardless of where you are. Once you turn on the distress signal, you cannot undo it. Help will come your way whether you still need it or not. As such, you should only use it in a life-or-death situation. They don’t require subscriptions, and you cannot send messages.
On the other hand, satellite messengers provide for remote two-way conversations. You can use a satellite messenger to send a message. You can use it to send distress signals to the relevant authorities and also send messages to the rescue team to alert them of the situation at hand. This will let them know what equipment to carry. Aside from this, you can use it to communicate with your family and friends throughout the hike.
You can opt to purchase a pre-packaged kit or put one together using this list;
Starting a fire is the most basic survival skill. If you do find yourself spending the night on the trail, a fire will keep you warm. Instead of having to struggle to start a fire like a caveman, you should carry a lighter. If you want, you can invest in a wind protected lighter.
If it gets dark when you are still on the trail, you should find someplace to sleep and then resume when its daybreak. To be prepared for sleeping on the trail, you should pack one of the following;
A bivy sack – this is lightweight and will keep you dry at all times.
A tarp – it’s not the warmest, but it will provide some form of shelter from the cold and rain.
A garbage bag – this is no shelter, but it will protect you from the rain and falling dew. The idea is to have a bag that will cover your whole body.
Wear a lightweight whistle around your neck. This way, you’ll be ready for emergencies. Three loud blasts are the international cry for help.
Two itineraries: 1 left with friend + 1 under a car glove compartment
Take time to prepare an itinerary for the hike. The itinerary should contain;
Make a copy of the itinerary and give one to a friend and leave the other one in your car (in glove compartment or under your seat).
Hand sanitiser – Carry a small bottle of your preferred hand sanitizer to use before preparing meals and after going to the bathroom.
Menstrual products – This is for the ladies. Carry menstrual products to cater to your needs even while on the trail. You wouldn’t want your monthly cycle to cut your hike short now, would you?
Prescription medications – If you have a health condition like anxiety attacks, diabetes or any other condition, make sure you pack their respective prescription medication.
Sunscreen – Carry your sunscreen in a tiny bottle. Sunscreen will protect your skin from the sun while on the trail. With sunscreen, you won’t get sunburns.
Sunglasses (+ retainer leash) – Regardless of whether it’s sunny or not, you should carry your sunglasses. Since you’ll be out in the sun for a long time, you need to protect your eyes from the UV rays.
Sun hat – Even with sunscreen and sunglasses, you still need to have a sun hat to block your face from direct sunlight.
SPF-rated lip balm – To prevent your lips from getting chirped, carry a lip balm with an SPF rating of 30.
Insect repellent – Insect repellent will protect you from mosquitos, ticks and black fly bites. These insects can make your hiking and night unbearable as well as cause various diseases, including malaria, Lyme disease, and onchocerciasis (though not in the USA).
Toilet paper – It’s proper hygiene to use toilet paper after answering the call of nature. Don’t use leaves. You can never be too sure which are safe and which ones are not.
Urinary products – For women, peeing in the wild is a tricky business. Squatting and letting it all out isn’t always safe. As such, we recommend you pack Female Urination Devices (FUDs). There are disposable and non-disposable FUDs.
Sanitation trowel (if no toilets) – These come in handy on trails and camping sites without toilets. You can use one to dig a cat hole and cover your business when done.
Baby wipes – You can use these to keep yourself clean and fresh throughout the hike. You can use them to wipe the face, neck, hands and the nether regions.
Knife or Multitool – Knives are handy for food preparation, gear repair, first aid, and many other emergencies. A basic knife should have a foldout blade. For more options, you can get a Multitool.
Gear repair kit – The gear repair kit can rescue you from a tough situation on a hike. The more remote your hiking trail is, the more critical a gear repair kit is. The kit should include cordage, duct tape, zip ties, fabric repair tape, safety pins and repair parts for tent poles, sleeping pad, stove, and the water filter.
Pack a low weight headlamp that weighs no more than 3 ounces, including its batteries. Make sure you add new batteries before you leave home. This way, you don’t have to carry extras. But if the hike is long, consider bringing an extra pair.
Hiking trails have some of the most surreal views ever. Moreover, you might want to capture some memories with your friends on the trail. The camera you pack should be light, easy to handle and durable. For this, an action camera is best. Remember to carry extra memory cards.
You will come across a lot of nature stuff that you’ll need to be interpreted. A field guide is handy for this. Depending on what kind of guide it is, it will provide excellent reference and explanation of things you come across on the hiking trail.
Being outdoors will trigger some creative thoughts, ideas, and plans. You’ll need somewhere to write these ideas for future reference.
With binoculars, you can observe birds, animals and other things nature has to offer from a distance. Good binoculars are weather resistant, compact and have a decent zoom.
These will provide communication with your hiking team. They are handy in situations where there is no cell phone network.
Money – you should always have emergency cash on you regardless of where you go hiking
ID – carry some form of identification just in case you are in trouble and are unconscious. Your ID should have emergency contact, your name, and blood group.
Mobile Phone – carry your phone just in case you are in trouble.
Now that we’ve reviewed everything you should pack ahead of your hike, we feel it’s important to point out the most essential items, and you cannot afford to leave out.
Appropriate footwear – wear hiking shoes for short and even trails and boots for long hikes and rough trails
Map, Compass or a GPS – these will tell you where you are relative to your destination. You can also use maps to find water sources and campsites. Though GPS units are convenient, you shouldn’t use them alone.
Extra Water – and a method to purify it
Extra Food – just in case you get lost and the hike goes on for longer than planned.
Extra clothing and rain gear – important in case of an unpredicted weather change.
Safety items – including a:
Cotton clothing – Cotton clothing is comfortable, but they absorb moisture. Eventually, they become uncomfortable.
Jeans – Jeans are not flexible. They restrict movement and are a potential safety hazard. Also, when navigating wet areas, jeans get heavier as they soak and retain water.
Jewellery/nice clothing – There’s nothing wrong with simple and small earrings, a ring and a pendant. However, if they are big, they can cause problems. Large jewellery pieces can get stuck on branches and shrubs, and you end up hurt. Do not wear fine clothing at the expense of protective clothing.
White Clothing – White clothing will get dirty faster. And since you’ll be on the trail for a while, you don’t want to come home looking like a homeless person.
There it is! We have covered so much information, but hopefully, you are absolutely dying to get out and explore; now you have all this new-found knowledge to keep you safe, warm and happy on all your adventures.
Below we have some epic related reading to doubly, or even triple prepare you for hiking, ensuring you maximise your time out in nature.